Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad
Release Date: 12th August 2015 (UK)
Adam Sandler is one of those guys you either love or hate, and in recent years he has emphatically encouraged the later, even from his die hard fans. With Pixels he stays well within his comedy comfort zone, though attempting something a little more daring and effects driven than his usual fare, which for the most part works.
The concept is far-fetched, though the trailer should prepare you both for this and the tone of the film from start to finish. And in fairness Adam Sandler has spent his whole career preparing you for the tone, which is very much in line with everything else he has made. That aside, the idea is based around a major miscommunication between Earth and an alien, who interpret a space capsule of 80s video games for a declaration of war. Consequently, thirty years later, the underachieving handyman Sandler finds himself saving the world with the friends he made at the arcade, including now President Kevin James.
It’s a silly premise delivered in a silly way, which is great most of the time. However, Kevin James is not even slightly believable as the President, not even an unpopular one, which detracts severely from the plausibility within an already implausible world. We need help to suspend our disbelief, and it didn’t feel like we had that support to fully engage.
The first act feels like a very rapid whistle stop tour of our characters, explaining or creating relationships far quicker than necessary instead of escalating carefully through the story. There was also a remarkable volume of product placement, which is expected with this kind of thing, but perhaps this licence was exploited a tad. But the Mini Coopers did look pretty cool, damn it.
Any man vs alien narrative is usually accompanied by a pretty severe ultimatum, i.e. an end of the world possibility, thus giving the characters motivation to risk their lives for the good of humanity. What is quite refreshing about Pixels is the lack of focus on this uber-Americanised ideal in favour of individual self-gratification – Sandler wants recognition as the greatest Donkey Kong player in the world, and the intergalactic war is his opportunity to prove himself, while Kevin James just wants his approval ratings to increase, and a war against Pac Man was a nice way to do this.
Pixels takes a classic narrative usually reserved for big budget action/science fiction epics with a checklist of features to tick off – inspirational speech from a leader, a protagonist’s do or die fight to save his love interest, the bad guy turning good and so on – and gives it a refreshing, nostalgic and generally funny makeover. It needs work, sometimes verging on the too silly, but that’s Adam Sandler for you. Overall it’s a fun family film that will make you feel really, really old.